Pinkerton syndrome

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Opera singers as Lieutenant B. F. Pinkerton and Cio-Cio-san (Madama Butterfly) in a performance of Giacomo Puccini’s Madama Butterfly at the Berlin State Opera in January 1946, photographed by Abraham Pisarek

Etymology 1[edit]

In reference to the character Lieutenant B. F. Pinkerton in the opera Madama Butterfly (first performed in 1904) by Italian composer Giacomo Puccini (1858–1924).

Proper noun[edit]

Pinkerton syndrome

  1. (chiefly Singapore, derogatory, politics, ethnic slur) The tendency of some Asians to regard Caucasians as superior or more desirable, especially where marriage or relationships are concerned.
    • 1996, Westerly, volume 41, Crawley, Perth, W.A.: Western Australia Westerly Centre, the University of Western Australia, →ISSN, page 70:
      When I’m with my white partner, I am a proponent of the ‘Pinkerton Syndrome’, a caricature not unlike the Other Asia’s mail order bride.
    • 2001, Neil Humphreys, Notes from an Even Smaller Island, Singapore: Times Books International, →ISBN, page 213:
      Like vampires, the ang moh crowd comes out at night, dressed in their best shirts and armed with plenty of tax-free Singapore dollars to woo those local darlings tragically struck down by the Pinkerton syndrome. Like the character in Madame Butterfly, they are somehow lured by the attraction of drunken voices and the possibility of a fat wallet.
    • 2006, William Beard, “M. Butterfly (1993)”, in The Artist as Monster: The Cinema of David Cronenberg, rev. and exp. edition, Toronto, Buffalo, N.Y.: University of Toronto Press, →ISBN, page 346:
      The Pinkerton Syndrome, then, seems to me non-operative in American cultural masculinity at the moment. [] Pinkerton's casual imperialist hubris, an expression of first-generation Manifest Destiny complete with brass-buttoned naval uniform, has an official status that lone action heroes as implicitly populist individuals must stay well clear of. No, the condition is really much more suited to Europeans.
    • 2015, Chris Hudson, “Dangerous Sexuality in Singapore: The Sarong Party Girl”, in Adeline Koh, Yu-Mei Balasingamchow, editors, Women and the Politics of Representation in Southeast Asia: Engendering Discourse in Singapore and Malaysia (Routledge Research on Gender in Asia Series; 8), Abingdon, Oxon., New York, N.Y.: Routledge, →ISBN:
      The home-wrecking bimbo who had succumbed to the Pinkerton Syndrome had been transformed into a 'bad girl' – a phenomenon not unfamiliar to Asian societies – and recovered for herself an empowered cultural agency.

See also[edit]


Etymology 2[edit]

A 1798 cameo of John Pinkerton (1758–1826) in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh, Scotland, UK

Named after Scottish antiquarian, author and historian John Pinkerton (1758–1826), coined by J. Derrick McClure: see 1985 quotation.

Proper noun[edit]

Pinkerton syndrome

  1. (literature, Scotland) Having esteem for older Scottish literature but not the modern Scottish tongue. [from 1985.]
    • 1985, J. Derrick McClure, “The Pinkerton Syndrome”, in Chapman: Scotland's Quality Literary Magazine, Edinburgh: Chapman Magazine and Publications, OCLC 55590049, pages 2–8; reprinted in Scots and Its Literature (Varieties of English around the World, General Series; 14), Amsterdam; Philadelphia, Pa., John Benjamins Publishing Company, 1996, ISBN 978-90-272-4872-5, pages 57–58:
      [page 57] The language of writers who are safely dead, and can be studied without fear of their exerting a subversive influence, bears the respectable label 'old Scots dialect'; the same tongue spoken by the living compatriots of these writers is 'bad grammar'. [] This attitude is of course not new; though perhaps seldom expressed so blatantly. I call it the Pinkerton syndrome, after one of the many memorable figures in out national gallimaufray of scholarly eccentrics. John Pinkerton (1758–1826), poet, critic, historian, dramatist and Celtophobe, in 1786 produced a book, entitled Ancient Scotish Poems, never before in print: [] [H]e wrote: "none can more sincerely wish a total extinction of the Scotish colloquial dialect than I do, for there are few modern Scoticisms which are not barbarisms ... Yet, I believe, no man of either kingdom would wish an extinction of the Scotish dialect in poetry." [] [page 58] This is the Pinkerton syndrome: the practice of paying lip-service, and sometimes much more than this, to the Scottish culture of the past while denigrating the Scots language of the present. And it is still prevalent today.
    • 1986, Billy Kay, Scots: The Mither Tongue, Edinburgh: Mainstream Publishing, →ISBN:
      James Beattie personifies the Pinkerton syndrome perfectly, for, while publishing lists of Scotticisms to be avoided, he still found time to write the occasional verse in Scots himself.